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How to bypass Australia's new metadata laws
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How to bypass Australia's new metadata laws

As of today, Australia's telecommunications companies are required by law to start storing two years worth of your private metadata logs.

That means that every text message or email you send, every phone call you make or receive, as well as your IP address, will be logged and filed on servers at your telco for two years.

Though the actual content of your phone calls will not be stored, your location during those calls will be recorded, as well as the duration of the conversation, and the identities and locations of both parties on the either end of the phone line.

The same goes for the content in your emails, and while the websites you visit will not be stored, your IP address will be kept on file so that law enforcement can track unlawful activity back to you – it's kind of like giving the police your fingerprint records before any crime has been committed.

With the new data retention laws that have been put in place, government bodies are now able to access all of your private information without your permission and potentially even without a warrant.

Sure, you probably aren't a criminal, so why should this bother you? Well, the funny thing about privacy is that you don't appreciate it until it's gone – several countries in the European Union implemented similar metadata laws in recent years, and some, including Germany, have since abandoned the legislation on grounds of it being ruled unconstitutional.

There's also the questions of who will have access to the data, whether it will be stored here or off-shore and how it will be encrypted.

Most countries with data retention laws will only hold on to the metadata for around six months to a year, unlike the two years in Australia's version of the bill. The more data that is collected, the more of a security risk to personal privacy it poses.

With all those things in mind, here are some ways for you to protect your privacy going forward.

Get a VPN service

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The use of a VPN (or Virtual Private Network) is not just a great way to access overseas versions of Netflix – it's also a method of ensuring that all data packets sent out and received by your computers and smart devices are routed through an encrypted tunnel. Even if someone were to access one of these packets, they wouldn't able to read the scrambled data inside.

VPNs let you connect to servers in different parts of the world, making it seem like your computer's physical location is in a different country entirely – VPNs also replace your IP address with one from your virtual location, making it almost impossible to track back to you.

There are plenty of VPN services to choose from online, some specifically tailored to Australian users. Most will set you back around $10 to $15 a month.

Ensure that your chosen VPN service provides strong encryption and does not store any user metadata at all, as those that do may eventually bow to legal pressure and give your data up to the authorities – the VPN service HideMyAss did just that, leading the arrest of LulzSec hacker Cody Kretsinger in 2012.

Sure, he got what was coming to him, but this example does highlight how a VPN is not truly private unless it's one that doesn't store your metadata.

If this all sounds too complicated, don't fret – we've got an in-depth guide on how to setup and maintain a VPN.

Browse anonymously using Tor

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Tor (short for The Onion Router) is a system of protocols that prevents your IP address from being traced while browsing the internet, allowing you to effectively browse anonymously.

Though it's used quite frequently for nefarious acts, Tor is also helpful for fine upstanding people who wish to keep their identities, communications and web browsing habits secret.

These people include activists and whistleblowers, journalists and their sources and even people living in oppressive regimes.

Tor works by routing your internet traffic through a series of Tor relays, effectively giving your anonymity multiple layers of protection via middle relays, exit relays, and bridges.

Internet traffic is routed through these relays, with your data entering and exiting in different parts of the world.

Admittedly, this slows down your browsing significantly, but most people won't need to use Tor all the time.

Running Tor is as easy as downloading and installing Tor browser software, though its settings can be extensively customised for enhanced anonymity.

Here's an in-depth guide on how to maximise your privacy online with Tor.

Use private messenger software

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Now that our metadata laws will be keeping tabs on our emails and text messages, it's important to use a messenger app that destroys any trace of your messages transmissions.

Though our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull led the charge on the metadata laws that have now been introduced in Australia, it was recently revealed that the former Minister for Communications is quite partial to the encrypted messenger app, Wickr (hey, if it's good enough to keep the Prime Minister's messages secret, it's good enough for us).

Wickr uses peer-to-peer encryption to send messages created with randomly-generated, single-use keys that are immediately destroyed after being read.

The company does not store any user data whatsoever, so you don't have to worry about your location or who you contact – messages are simply bound to the device they were sent to.

Wickr is available on iOS and Android devices, as well as Windows, Mac OS X and Linux computers.

If you're not into Wickr, there are other options available, such as Bleep, from the creators of the BitTorrent protocol, which cuts out the metadata middle-man by using the same P2P technology used for torrenting to send direct messages to users with no stops along the way.

Bleep also allows users to send self-destructing messages, Mission: Impossible-style, so you never have to worry about your friend hanging on to them or manually deleting them yourself.

Bleep is available iOS and Android devices, as well as Windows and Mac OS X.

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